Trustee Emeritus Emory Williams gave a lifetime of service to Emory

By Maria M. Lameiras | Emory Report | Feb. 14, 2014

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Emory Williams, '32C, shown here attending the Emory Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 8,  2013, was a lifelong supporter of Emory, giving his time, money and intellect to his beloved alma mater. Photo by Michael Kloss.

Emory Williams Jr., a dedicated alumnus, emeritus trustee, and supporter of Emory University, died Tuesday, Feb. 11, in Hobe Sound, Fla. Williams was 102.

A 1932 graduate of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Williams remained closely involved with Emory since his graduation. He began serving as a trustee in 1964 and was elected to emeritus status in 1981. 

“In addition to his remarkable professional career, national service, and family life, Emory Williams was deeply committed to the University and to helping to stimulate and enrich the life of the mind,” says Emory President James W. Wagner. “He took his role as a trustee seriously, attending meetings—including last November's Board of Trustees meeting—and writing to me regularly words of guidance and support.”

In 1972, Williams established the Emory Williams Awards to honor faculty for fostering participation, inquiry and creative expression in the classroom; proving a model for teaching and scholarship; and serving as a mentor to students.

“As a devotee of the arts and sciences curriculum in which he was educated, Emory Williams contributed to the University in ways that honored both that tradition and the extraordinary professors who carried it forward,” wrote Gary Hauk, Emory vice president, of Williams.

Williams's commitment to the notion of the "great books" led to the establishment of a voluntary core curriculum in Emory College focused on "great works of the Western tradition in politics, philosophy, literature and history."

Creating a program

Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History at Emory and one of the founders of the voluntary core curriculum, credits Williams with the idea for the program.

“About four years ago, I was teaching a program in democracy and citizenship. He had come across it and wanted to talk to me about a pet project he had. He had been trying to convince the administration and the trustees for long time that Emory should have a core curriculum,” says Klehr, who received the Emory Williams Teaching Award in 1983.

After many conversations with Williams, Klehr worked with colleagues in Emory College to formulate the idea of a voluntary core curriculum. With Williams' personal and financial support, the program was instituted in fall 2012 with courses in political science, English, philosophy and history. In fall 2013, a classics course was added.

“It felt good to move from talking about something to doing something about it. We are very proud of it, and it would not have happened without Mr. Williams,” Klehr says.

Williams established a lecture series to support the program, which Emory College named the Emory Williams Lectures in the Liberal Arts in his honor.

A lifelong student

Williams attended lectures and classes on occasion and maintained a keen interest in the program, says Patrick Allitt, Cahoon Family Professor of American History and a 2012 recipient of the Emory Williams Teaching Award.

“He was eloquent, amusing and full of interest in the details of the curriculum, wanting to know exactly what the students did and did not like, how much work I was asking them to do, and how good or bad they were as writers,” Allitt recalls. “I can't think of an Emory alum who has done more for the University, and only regret that subsequent students in the program won't have the chance to meet him.”

A veteran of World War II, Williams was former vice president and chief financial officer of Sears Roebuck and Company and later chair and chief executive officer of the Sears Bank and Trust Company. Williams also served as chair and president of the Chicago Milwaukee Corp., a railroad and real estate holding company, from which he retired in 1983.

Williams previously served as a member of the university's Board of Visitors, a class agent, and president of the Chicago chapter of the Emory Alumni Association. In 2011, he received the 2011 Judson C. “Jake” Ward Golden Heart award for longtime service to Emory and the community.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to Emory University in support of the Voluntary Core Curriculum Program, Office of Gift Records, Emory University, 1762 Clifton Rd. NE, Suite 1400, Atlanta, GA 30322. Memorial gifts may be made online by clicking here.